Animation Process Anime Industry

How anime is made: Backgrounds and Photography

©Ufotable/Gotouge Kiyoharu

In previous posts of this series, we covered the more primary stages in the anime production. This time, however, the field explored will be composed of aesthetic issues — outside animation — such as scenery and photography; that is, we will meet the professionals responsible for making the animated skeleton turn into that colorful result we know, as shown in the gif below.

©Kyoto Animation/Akatsuki Kana
Backgrounds (背景 — Haikei) and Art Direction (美術監督 — Bijutsu Kantoku)

Let’s start with something very intuitive, which are the backgrounds. Contrary to what you might think, they are not done together with the animation, but separately. Often, they are not even made within the main anime studio, but in outsourcing studios specialized in it.

Currently, most artists prefer to do them digitally as it is a more viable and efficient process. Despite this, some studios still work with traditional, hand-painted backdrops, such as studio Pablo, responsible for beautiful backgrounds like this image, taken from the Dororo anime. 

©Mappa/Tezuka Productions/Osamu Tezuka

In a single anime, there are several people responsible for making the backgrounds, so, logically, there needs to be someone to guarantee their overall identity, right? The person responsible for this is called “art director”. Their function is, basically, to elaborate how the general aesthetics of the anime will be, from what the sets should convey to the viewer, to the choice of colors for the anime as a whole.

Speaking of colors, there are also specific professionals allocated for coloring. The Color Coordinators (色指定 — Iroshitei) make tokens with the color models, while the Finishers (仕上げ — Shiage) are simply those who apply the colors. In other words, they paint everything (currently the paintings are mostly done in a digital environment).

After going through all this, we have a result like the following image, taken from a scene from the anime Hyouka.

©Kyoto Animation/Yonezawa Honobu

Despite being very close to being finished, this image is still missing one of the stages of production, which will be explained below.

Photography (撮影 — Satsuei)

This one is, by far, one of the steps that most lead people to commit misunderstandings. From thinking it refers to deciding the position of the “camera” in a scene (which actually occurs in the storyboard and layout stages), to deducing that a director of photography is the one who takes reference photos for animators. However, it consists of something quite different. 

The photography sector is, to put it in simple terms, responsible for composing the scenes. In this case, things like focus and blur, mixing 2D animation with scenes and computer graphics, in addition to applying digital filters, fall under their jurisdiction. After going through this step, the scene is already finished. For comparison purposes, here’s the scene shown earlier after the process.

©Kyoto Animation/Yonezawa Honobu

Most of the ideas that the photography team executes are already indicated in the storyboard and/or in the genga, and they usually work directly under the guidance of the general director. However, there is the interesting case where a director of photography is the name responsible for the aesthetic identity of an entire studio.

I’m talking about Yuichi Terao, whose photorealistic approach and heavy digital treatment constitute the biggest hallmark of the renowned Ufotable. Another studio marked by its use of scene composition very well is none other than Kyoto Animation.

We can therefore conclude that a good use of the photography industry is a big plus for visual quality (and the opposite is also true, see freaks like Hand Shakers).

With that, we conclude this part of the series. The next post should go to a more “hidden” area of anime production, but no less important: the producers.

I hope this one has clarified some of your doubts about the subject, and don’t miss the others, since the posts are well interconnected with each other.

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